Egyptian artists call for end to politicisation of culture

Ahram Online, Tuesday 25 Sep 2012

National Culture Policy Group demands clear separation between Ministry of Culture and politics, better organisation of cultural endeavours

Karima Mansour, Tamer Said and Fairouz Karawya (photo: Al Ahram Arabic gate)

At a conference dubbed Aesthetics and Politics held at the American University in Cairo (AUC), the National Culture Policy Group, an initiative launched in 2009, discussed the need for a clear separation between the Ministry of Culture and politics

The initiative maintains that the ministry’s cultural agenda lacks a vision to guide its programmes and allocate its resources in a manner that supports diverse sectors and geographical areas and provides funding for independent bands and artists. The initiative proposes a plan of action to better organise cultural endeavours, as the majority of cultural developments in Egypt are still limited to personal efforts by cultural activists and independent figures.

Aesthetics and Politics is taking place between 16 and 27 September at the AUC, in cooperation with Cairo University and Philipps University Marburg, Germany.

At the fourth session, held on Sunday 23 September, artist and anthropological researcher Fairouz Karawya said the initiative aimed to free the Ministry of Culture from certain narratives that are set in place to serve political interests, by creating a plan of action based on research rather than a limited ideological plan that steers the ministry in one direction.

The initiative adopts a wide definition of culture that grants all citizens the right to exercise culture and enjoy it, and implement culture as a daily experience. Moreover, the initiative believes that culture is not merely a product of literature or art, but rather a way of life and the traditions of a society.

Karawya revealed that this initiative was presented to the People’s Assembly and approved by its culture committee only one day before it was dissolved. Karawya believes that presenting this initiative to parliament represents a new tool for actualising a cultural plan.

The plan attempts to force the Ministry of Culture to fairly allocate its financial resources, and to transform the ministry from a producer of culture to a shepherd of cultural production under a partnership with civil society. Further, the initiative calls for amending the legislative structure restricting freedom of opinion and expression and cultural practice and creativity, while implementing international agreements signed by Egypt. The initiative advocates cultural rights, which Karawya deems the only guarantee to prevent a problematic relationship between the ministry and any political regime.

Writer and professor at the Academy of Arts Yasser Allam said they are adamant about preserving the diverse faces of Egyptian culture, so that it is not monopolised by one sector of the society.

The initiative strives to transform the cultural product from one approved by the state to a profitable product that, if well managed, could generate sizeable income for the nation.

Contemporary dance choreographer Karima Mansour severely criticised the Ministry of Culture for ignoring the efforts of independent artists and denying them funds and resources, in terms of using the state’s stages or their participation in festivals.

Director Tamer El-Said believes that the biggest challenge currently facing this initiative was receiving popular support. Society at large should realise the importance of culture and art, which have been marginalised in recent decades.

El-Said said the Ministry of Culture, in its current shape, is not a partner in any cultural movement, but rather a force that handicaps and hinders the development of Egyptian culture, as it impedes the freedom of creative thought rather than supporting it. 

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